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Healthy Cities for Adolescents – A Consultation Workshop

The Healthy Cities for Adolescents (HCA) Program is a five-year global initiative funded by the Swiss philanthropic organisation, Fondation Botnar, and managed by the International Society of Urban Health (ISUH) based in New York. This global program includes seven projects addressing the health and well-being of young people living in secondary cities. The projects are based out of Senegal, Ghana, India, Vietnam, and Colombia. In India, the program is being anchored by Ennovent and has been initiated through projects in Smart Cities in two states – Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan and Bhubaneswar and Cuttack in Odisha.

Haqdarshak and World Resources Institute (WRI) are HCA’s implementing partners in India. Haqdarshak’s initiative in Jaipur and Bhubaneswar is focused on training 200 young adults as Haqdarshaks (community leaders), who will help citizens access their entitlements at their doorstep to address the information gap regarding available schemes and programmes. It also aims to train Haqdarshaks on life skills training, who will then facilitate life-skills based interactions with adolescents in their communities. This is expected to build adolescents’ leadership skills and better equip them to serve as leaders and influencers to other young people in their communities. Haqdarshak will also provide young people with a platform to liaise with local government departments and contribute to strengthening local governance. 

WRI’s demonstrator project will help build adolescents’ understanding of safe and healthy public spaces that promote physical, social, mental and environmental conditions for the overall wellbeing of young people. It will work closely with 200 adolescents in the 10-19 age group in Jaipur and Bhubaneswar. The project thus aims to recognize and empower adolescents as Public Space Ambassadors (PSAs) to become agents of change for public spaces in their communities. WRI will also create a knowledge framework for public space assessment through active participation from adolescents as well as local stakeholders, and strengthen the ecosystem that can eventually inform policy and actions for healthy public spaces.

A woman wearing a mask standing next to a large screen which has pictures on itThe demonstrator project was launched with a consultation workshop in Jaipur on August 26, 2021, to understand the problems faced and solutions improvised by organisations working in different cities of Rajasthan during COVID-19. In addition to HCA India’s implementing partners, various grassroots and civil society organisations participated in the consultation. These organisations were IPE Global, UNFPA, IDS Jaipur, Magicbus India Foundation, Moinee Foundation, Pravah, Share a Smile Foundation, ThatMate, and Vishakha

This one-day workshop started with all the participating organisations sharing information about the programs they are currently implementing. Many of these programmes were focused on education, civic action, skill development, and health. The presentations created the right platform for open conversations and questions between participants. 

These conversations led to the second part of the workshop, a group discussion where participants were divided into two groups. This vibrant group discussion addressed several topics around the impact of COVID-19 on their programmes and their digital intervention strategies to combat these impacts. The group discussion shed light on issues that the participating organisations witnessed in the communities they served. 

Impact of the Pandemic on Adolescents in Rajasthan

One of the specific issues highlighted during the group discussion was the negative impact of COVID-19 on adolescents, especially adolescent girls. With the closure of schools, the time spent by girls at home increased. This led to a significant increase in their share of housework. Schooling was disturbed for adolescent students due to issues in accessing the internet. “Digital divide gets worse when you apply a gender lens. Most girls do not have access to a phone. Even when they do, it is monitored,” added Dr Shobhita Rajagopal, a professor at the Institute of Development Studies Jaipur (IDSJ). 

Before the pandemic, girls were at least able to participate in public spaces (when they went to coaching classes, schools, and other avenues), exploreGroup of 6 people sitting around a conference table, 5 of them wearing masks. safe spaces, create networks of friends, and explore aspirations. With the pandemic-imposed restrictions on their mobility and closure of institutions like schools, it has become difficult for girls to express their autonomy and exercise opportunities. 

Child marriage is also a significant concern in Rajasthan. The pandemic has disrupted several programmes which work to address the issue of early child marriage. Several organisations shared the concern that rising economic difficulties resulting from the pandemic and limited household savings may force families to marry adolescent girls. 

Implementing Programmes Through the Pandemic

As the organisations continued to address issues, they reimagined their interventions in the physical and digital spaces. Moinee Foundation highlighted their initiative called ‘School in a Box’, an e-learning intervention to provide digital content to students in their local language without dependency on the internet. They are also implementing school transformation programmes in several states. They build digital infrastructure through robotics and tinkering kits, offline e-learning solutions, e-libraries, and ICT labs. 

IPE Global have digitised their sexual and reproductive health training and are in the process of integrating this curriculum for adolescents and teachers in ‘e-kaksha’, the Rajasthan government’s digital education platform. Vishakha currently handles ‘Man Samvad’, the Rajasthan government’s newly launched helpline to address mental health concerns during the pandemic. Efforts are being made by the organization to normalize conversations around mental health so that adolescents and young adults can access such support without the fear of being stigmatized.

The consultation helped all the organisations come together and aim to build interventions by aligning their goals. Priyanka Sharma from IPE Global summarised this thought well by saying, “If we join hands and forces, we can create a bigger impact.” The consultation also helped understand the nature and scope of adolescent health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This workshop is the first among a series of consultation events. Along with other events at Bhubaneswar, Udaipur, and Cuttack, we hope to gather on-ground learning to contribute to shaping the HCA India programme.

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